Space War Is Real and China Wants to Lead

October 27, 2021 Updated: October 27, 2021

News Analysis

Beijing has officially opposed the weaponization of space, but according to a Pentagon report, China has constructed ground-based missiles that can hit a satellite in orbit.

“Beijing actively seeks space superiority through … space attack systems,” Gen. James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, told Congress. Similarly, Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, chief of Space Operations at the U.S. Space Force, warned that the biggest threat to security in space is China.

Meanwhile, China and Russia have jointly suggested that agreements on the limitation of space weapons be established. U.S. experts, however, caution that this proposition has been made to prevent the United States from implementing missile defense systems.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) denies the existence of China’s space weapons. But in 2007, China used anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) to destroy a weather satellite, 500 miles above the Earth. The implementation of dual-use technology is one way that the Chinese regime can obscure its militaristic intentions in space. Many of the Chinese satellites are meant to have civilian applications, but can also be used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Dual-use technologies include China’s BeiDou constellation, which allows the PLA to avoid being dependent on the American GPS system. This also means that in the event of a war, China would not hesitate to destroy American GPS capabilities, leaving the U.S. military with no means of satellite navigation.

U.S. military operation strategies are predicated on digital communication, and the ability to remotely coordinate and control U.S. weapons systems. Aircraft carriers, submarines, fifth-generation fighters, tanks, and missiles are all dependent on digital communications. The outcome of the next war may be determined in the first few days, dependent on either side being able to take out the GPS or communication satellites of the other, rendering the opposing army non-combat deployable.

Orbital satellites are critical to U.S. operations—which makes U.S. satellite networks prime targets. Consequently, China’s space weapons include satellite jammers and directed-energy weapons, as well as earth-based lasers that can damage or blind a satellite in orbit. China’s counterspace capabilities include “kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, orbiting space robots, and space surveillance” to monitor both Earth and space, according to Space News.

The CCP has steadily been increasing spending on China’s space program. In 2020, Beijing spent $8.5 billion on building satellites and launch vehicles, as well as sensors and lunar systems. China is also testing new technology such as the world’s first quantum communications satellite. Among China’s space weapons is the Shijian-17 or SJ-17, a satellite with a robotic arm, which could be used to attack or disable the satellites of other countries.

The CCP established the Strategic Support Force, which is specifically focused on disabling enemy satellites, preventing other countries from connecting weapons systems and sharing data and information. According to Gen. Raymond, China is building GPS jammers, as well as jammers for communications satellites, to prevent U.S. vessels from linking or communicating.

In the spring of 2021, China landed the Tianwen-1 mission probe on Mars, becoming only the second country to do so. A few months later, it launched the primary stage of, what will become, its first manned space station, the Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace.

Epoch Times Photo
A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander, and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province on July 23, 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

While the Chinese regime claims that its space ambitions are peaceful, it ran drills last year, which experts believe simulated a co-orbital satellite attack. Additionally, it is suspected that China already has satellites armed with lasers. Satellite attacks are a particular vulnerability of the United States, as it accounts for roughly 56 percent of all satellites orbiting the Earth. And the U.S. military relies on these satellites more than any other military, because of the need to coordinate and communicate with a massive armed forces network deployed in all corners of the globe. Attacking satellites is a logical first strike, to prevent the army, navy, and air force from being able to respond to attacks on Earth.

In August of this year, China tested its capability to launch a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. Hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) can achieve speeds of at least Mach 5 (1 mile per second). HGV missiles, armed with ballistic re-entry vehicles, are able to maneuver and change course after being released from their rocket boosters. China has developed a HGV, known as the DF-ZF, which it has tested at least nine times since 2014. The DF-ZF could be equipped with conventional warheads. Its extreme maneuvering ability during flight could make it capable of evading U.S. ballistic missile defenses. When equipped with the DF-17 booster, it could travel from 1,100 to 1,500 miles.

The Chinese space war plan also includes cyberattacks and ground forces that could knock out U.S. control centers. An example would be earlier this year, when a cyberattack, believed to be linked to the PLA, hit nearly 200 Japanese companies and research institutes, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

A defensive strategy for the United States would be to have many smaller satellites, rather than a few large, expensive ones. This way, the smaller ones would be harder to hunt and destroy. Gen. Raymond recommended that the United States form coalitions with its allies, and that they share intelligence in order to counter China. An issue with the coalition strategy is that most of the U.S. allies fall far behind the United States, China, and Russia in terms of space war capabilities. Currently, the United States is the only country with an independent military branch dedicated to space operations.

As of January 2021, there were 3,372 artificial satellites orbiting the Earth, 1,897 of which belong to the United States. China, in second place, has 412. Russia is third, with 179 satellites. Both Russia and China are capable of using their commercial satellites for military and strategic purposes such as surveillance. PLA satellite surveillance tends to be focused on the United States and its allies, as well as regional rivals, India and Japan, and potential regional flashpoints such as South Korea, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent over 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Antonio works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."